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Peer pressure is a powerful tool; or, how Facebook status updates can help the world

Will changing your Facebook profile picture do anything for marriage equality? | PsySociety, Scientific American Blog Network
Although many people have said that it’s been personally meaningful to sign onto Facebook and see a screen full of red avatars, many have criticized the trend for being a silly way of “showing support” without actually accomplishing anything significant. However, although the SCOTUS justices might not be checking Facebook to tally up the red avatars before rendering a decision, a demonstration of solidarity like this one really could end up making an impact. The reason why those avatars might actually make a difference has to do with the fact that at the end of the day, there’s a part of our brains that never quite made it out of high school. Namely, we’re all too susceptible to the powers of peer pressure, or social proof. Our friends, family, and the people around us exert strong influences on our attitudes and behavior, whether intentional or not. One of the big ways that the people around us exert these influences is through the use of norms, those messages that we send out about what’s acceptable, appropriate, and…well, normal. Descriptive norms simply describe the way that things are, whereas prescriptive norms offer a mandate about how things should be. For example, if I said that most college students go to class wearing jeans and sweatshirts, that would be a descriptive norm. If I said that you should wear jeans and a sweatshirt in order to fit in, that would be prescriptive. Quite possibly the most important takeaway point from all of the research that’s been done on norms is just how powerful descriptive norms can be. When people try to change behavior, they often focus on prescriptive norms, telling people what they should do. We often underestimate just how strongly we respond to what other people actually do.

March 27, 2013

Gun Numbers and Online Comments

I like writing for the Chronicle for a lot of...

March 25, 2013

"If Only We Could Talk About Abusing Women Like We Do Abusing Cats"

If Only We Could Talk About Abusing Women Like We Do Abusing Cats | The Raw Story
I’m hoping many of you saw this story about Wendell Overton, a 10-year-old boy who came across a group of boys, ages 5-13, torturing a cat to death and who saved the cat. Because of Wendell’s intervention, Jackson the cat will make a full recovery from being thrown in the air and even run over with a bicycle. . . . Missing from the discussion: Wondering if the cat was asking for it by being so cute and easy to torture. Blaming male hormones or implying that because it’s so sexually gratifying to torture a cat, some boys can’t help themselves. Making excuses for the cat torturers by saying that they don’t understand the difference between playing with a cat who wants to play with you and torturing it. Claiming that while cat torture is bad, we shouldn’t be too eager to punish the cat torturers. A lot of people in comments said that we should teach boys not to torture cats, specifically noting cultural changes that could be instituted to prevent cat torture. These people were not subjected to an angry flame war where they were accused of being stupid, called by misogynist or racist names, or told that they should be tortured themselves until they understood that the only way to stop cat torture is for cats to defend themselves. It was understood that cats do try to defend themselves, but unfortunately, self-defense is sometimes not enough to prevent cat torture. It was accepted that cat torture is a crime that is cultural in origin, and that by changing the culture, we can prevent it. I’m guessing you can see where I’m going with this. To be blunt, men who rape women do so for the same reason that boys who torture cats do so: Because they’ve been raised to believe that dominating others makes you a big, tough man, and they take pleasure in exerting power over this being they’ve been taught is beneath them. Most boys don’t torture animals, but we aren’t confused about those who do. Even if they do find some kind of visceral satisfaction from it, we don’t think they’re confused and simply think they’re, say, preparing a meal. When boys torture animals in groups, we know that there was probably a ringleader who used pressure to “be a man” to get the other boys to go along with it. We also know some boys torture animals in secret, taking pleasure in the conquest of these animals. If you understand why boys torture animals, you understand why teenage boys and men rape. The same codes of masculinity and sadism are underlying the behavior, and I’m guessing the overlap between the two behaviors is really high, with a lot of youthful animal torturers growing up to become sexual predators who get a thrill out of conquering women, especially considering how much more cunning you need to dominate and control a woman than an animal. . . .